My guest today, author Kevin Brennan, joins us to talk about relationship novels and his new book, Occasional Soulmates. Between his book and a recent post on Suzie81 Speaks, I’ve been thinking about my own relationship novel.
My boyfriend was finishing up his PhD thesis, and we were at my parents’ house because my mother had offered to type it. (Yes, we’re THAT old!) While there, I told her that we were planning to go down to the courthouse and get married as soon as the dissertation was submitted. I showed her a pale pink cocktail dress I’d bought from a vintage shop for the occasion. Too late! I recognized my mistake as soon as I saw her eyes narrow. I didn’t even need to hear her muttering about my “used pink dress” and “no daughter of mine”.
By the time we came back two weeks later to proofread the typed thesis, she’d taken my younger sister shopping for a properly pouffy eighties wedding dress that looked like a giant cupcake. Another sister made a veil, while yet others (yes, I have seven younger sisters, so she could tap into a large workforce supply) were on flower, invitation, and cake details. She flew in my uncle, an army chaplain, to perform the ceremony.
Of course, the first order of business was proofreading the dissertation. As soon as he arrived, my uncle was handed a couple of chapters and told to get busy. Everyone had pages to read over in addition to their assigned wedding roles. My husband-to-be would check over the corrected pages, while muttering about how he just wouldn’t be able to get married if the dissertation wasn’t finished. Every time he heard that, my father would turn around and go back to the garage to “work” on the cars. At the ceremony, my uncle told us how “Marriage is like a dissertation”, while my maid-of-honor sister pointed to the vintage pink cocktail dress she was wearing and mouthed “Mine”. It must have worked, because we’ve been married for over 30 years. And my sister still hasn’t given me back that pink dress.
I asked Kevin Brennan about writing, life, and relationship novels:
- Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? Assuming it has to be someone who’s living, I think I’d like to sit next to Tina Fey on a cross-country flight. I kept seeing her as my protagonist in Occasional Soulmates as I wrote it, and she’s also one of the funniest people around (forget man vs woman). Sure, there are more profound individuals who’d make a long flight interesting, but laughing your way from New York to LA would alleviate all of the humiliations of flying these days. Second choice? UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.
- Best guilty pleasure ever? I recently spent way too much money to see Paul McCartney do the final concert that will ever be staged at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. They’re tearing it down soon. I felt guilty over the money, but the concert was spectacular, and as a lifelong Beatles connoisseur I was in seventh heaven. Sir Paul can still bring it!
- Who would play you in the movie? Vin Diesel.
- Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? They can be. And it’s not necessarily that the name has symbolic or metaphorical meaning, like Jesus H. Christfigure. It can be as simple as the sound of the name, its tone or rhythm, or even its cultural connotations. I have a character in Yesterday Road named Joe Easterday, and while it’s not meant to have a religious slant, I think it gives him an innocent air that’s important to the book. The truth is, I knew a girl in kindergarden whose last name was Easterday, and it always stuck with me. By the way, the love interest in Occasional Soulmates is named Dylan Cakebread. Make of it what you will.
- What’s the best writing advice you ever heard? Learn computer programming.
Contact Kevin Brennan:
- email: kevinbrennan520(at)gmail(dot)com
- Book Title: Occasional Soulmates
- Author: Kevin Brennan
- Genre: Literary Humor
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
- Length: 258 pages
- Release Date: 14 September, 2014
- US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NKO0B2A
- UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00NKO0B2A
- Canada: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00NKO0B2A
My Review: Occasional Soulmates–4 out of 5 stars
Boy meets girl. Girl rebuffs boy. Boy gives up and watches sports. The program I use for writing, Storyist, offers this as their sample “Romantic Plot Thread”. The funny, clueless, self-doubting narrator of Occasional Soulmates, Dr. Sarah Phelan, expands on this outline to present her relationship novel.
This is why chick lit is so popular. We’re hoping to go out and buy our own relationship novel so we can see how everything turns out. Of course, nowadays, all literature is pretty much chick lit because women buy the books and get to decide what they want.
Watching Sarah go about constructing her own relationship novel is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. With merciless precision, she details her own quirks and flaws, from her inability to carry a purse (throughout the book, she wavers between her Land of the Giants lunchbox and random paper bags such as the Joseph Schmidt chocolate bag sans chocolate), to her Daddy issues (she still drives his decrepit Volvo, and even refers to it by his name, Pat). Then there’s the failed relationship with her only sister, Ella, which she blames for…well, almost everything that could go wrong with her attempts at romance, or at least at first dates.“The only thing to do is forge ahead with the details, through which you reveal to this near-stranger that you and your sister have never gotten along, really, but you had this sort of détente thing going for a long time just to make your parents happy, even though everyone knew it was all an act and you both more or less despised each other.”
Sarah understands the framework and process of her relationship novel. First there is her past, with former husband Ben the writer. There there are a series of romantic attempts with potential suitors her best friend Jules calls “Permanent Adolescents”, such as the one who showed up in a “Don’t Tase Me Bro” shirt. “An independent filmmaker, he called himself, and there are thousands of them in San Francisco. Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach make independent films.”
Luckily, that’s all just prelude to the actual start of her own relationship novel, chronicled in capitalized benchmarks beginning with the Love Interest—Dr. Sarah’s patient, Jude Law lookalike Dylan. He’s troubled, brooding, obviously suffering. Needless to say, she stalks and falls for him immediately. Subsequent milestones include the Threshold, the Obligatory Transition Point, and of course, “when the Best Friend tells the Betrayed Heroine that it’s over and her dreams have been officially crushed”. This is followed by the Moment of Truth, the Last Stand, and finally… the ultimate Capitalized Event—The End. Sarah is so sure of the sequence, she manages to completely ignore the red flags that mar each capitalized milestone. Because determined, offbeat, Land of the Giants Lunchbox-carrying heroines of their own relationship novel are supposed to triumph over such roadblocks. Right?
Dr. Sarah has a relentlessly quirky, funny voice that doesn’t hide or even recognize her clueless inability to comprehend the reasons she fails at relationships. The pace matches that breezy tone, glossing over the angst-fueled moments we’ve come to expect in the genre Sarah (and presumably author Kevin Brennan) refer to somewhat contemptuously as Chick Lit. “While waiting, she does things like talk to her best friend, visit her mother, paint her apartment walls, cook a ridiculously complex meal for herself (braised beef cheeks, in this case), and exercise obsessively.” You can hear the virtual “yada, yada…”
Just as I was working up some serious annoy over this treatment, it started to hit me. (Okay, there was the fact that author Brennan tells us right in the book blurb that it might not be her relationship novel at all, but his. Apparently, I’m slow. Don’t judge me.) So… what if this really isn’t about romance? Or at least, what if it’s not about Sarah and Dylan’s romance? What if this isn’t Chick Lit but actual literature—maybe even with a capital L? What if Sarah isn’t the adorable or feisty or kickass heroine, but that bright, funny best friend who keeps teaming up with lying, damaged losers but you’re still trying to get her to give Love one more chance?
What, indeed, if it’s not Sarah’s relationship novel? Then you have a funny, often annoying, well-written hell of a book. I’d give Occasional Soulmates four stars, even though the relationship between Dylan’s last name (Cakebread) and the last line of the novel still bugs me. “The night was still dark, and under the covers our hands were both as warm as bread.”**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Excerpt from Occasional Soulmates
I told Jules about my concept of the relationship novel and how I had a weird feeling mine had begun that very night.
“I worry about you,” she said.
“I think you might be too quirky for your own relationship novel. You need to tone it down. I saw your profile on Commitment.com.”
“Because I showed it to you.”
“You shouldn’t brag about your lunchbox.”
“I love my lunchbox. ‘Land of the Giants’ — it’s classic.”
“But you use it as a purse, and that’s a little outré, isn’t it? Especially for a doctor? Who’s inching toward forty?”
“I don’t see why. Ouch, by the way.”
“And you could use to buy yourself a new car. The ‘63 Volvo is way too retro.”
“It was my dad’s. You know that.”
I had my own nostalgic signals in play too.
“Yeah, but it’s a bucket of bolts now. Always in the shop.”
“Thank God I have a good mechanic.”
“Why don’t you ask him out?”
“I’m just saying. Maybe we should do a ‘My Fair Lady’ on you.”
“That sounds like gay slang for something really raunchy.”
We hung up laughing, like always. I got ready for bed, which is to say I brushed my teeth and shed my pink chenille robe. I kept two pillows on the bed, as if my relationship might show up one night unexpectedly.
What tales can you share from your own relationship novel?